A little over 17 years ago, it was my senior year of high school and my family took a trip to Hawaii. We traveled with our friends, and their good friends the Johnsons, whom I’d never met. The mom, Lynette, was a photographer in Seattle. We attended a luau the first night, where we both had our cameras. It’s where she took this photo. It’s still one of my favorite photos of me.
We chatted about photography and I remember getting up my naive, adolescent guts to say “I really love taking pictures too. If you ever need an assistant, I’m starting at UW this Fall and would love to work for you”. In September, my phone rang. It was Lynette calling to hire me.
I worked for Lynette all 4 years of undergrad. It was an apprenticeship more than a job, and Lynette a mentor more than a boss. She had a way with her subjects that brought out their real smiles, their most authentic selves. She could meet a new person, strip off their armor, and photograph them in a matter of seconds. She wasn’t scared to express emotion, and let it sink into her work. She is the most intuitive person I have ever met.
Her intuition could predict which client was calling on the land line (no caller ID or email in those days). She was right every single time. She quietly photographed babies at children’s hospital. One day she came back to the office, recounting how a child had a few days left to live, and the parents were scared to hold him, lest he pass away immediately. Lynette, and her intuition, encouraged the father to hold his child so she could take a photo of them together, unencumbered by tubes and machines. The resulting image will forever be burned in my brain. Pure beauty.
I remember sneaking up behind Lynette in the aisle as she photographed a wedding. I’d pull her second camera away from her hip to change the film. If I opened the back of the camera too soon, I could expose the film and her entire roll would be ruined. Back then you had 36 images on a roll, had to budget your shots across critical moments, and often one click of the shutter to nail your shot. It forced accuracy, quality.
Later in the reception, I’d be snapping photos of guests and Lynette would walk up beside me, listen to my camera as it fired, and say “your shutter speed is too slow”…simply because of the sound. To this day I hear my camera, feel it, more than I think about settings. I have Lynette to thank for that.
There were no screens – chimping didn’t exist. You only saw your images after the full roll had been shot, spent a week at the lab, and developed…for $50 a pop. You had to trust the camera, trust yourself.
Lynette taught me to connect with the person in front of me, feel the moment, and push the shutter at the exact right time. “The difference between a good photographer and a bad photographer is an eighth of second” she would say. To this day almost all the images I shoot are deliverable because of this practice. I don’t waste shots. I rarely miss focus. Old school.
Talent is only a small part of taking good photos. Good photos, if you ask me, are 10% talent, 20% skill and practice, and 70% intuition. You can have the first two, but if you can’t embrace feeling, the timing of emotion, you’re missing the art of it all.
I am a photographer. I push a button on an instrument, finding beauty in eighths of seconds, usually in moments of chaos. If photography has taught me anything, it’s that beauty exists everywhere, in every moment, in every context. You don’t have to force it or create it.
If you just stop to look, beauty is right in front of you.
It’s been there all along.